Self-Portrait as Camel Speaking to Immigration Officer, or The Eye of a Needle Welcomes You Back to The United States

The man flips my passport and he lands on my head, hijabed and unsmiling.
He peers from above the pages, fanned as teeth and places me in the desert in fixed caravan tableau with blanketed back.
He asks me why I traveled to Iran a year ago, my eyelashes grow longer.
I just came from Paris, I say. I blink slowly so my lashes sway. But that trip I went back with my mother. He looks down my shirt, the bareness of my growing neck, my breasts, talismans to deter the evil eye, Allah medallion, the hook of my bra.
He asks me if my mother still lives in Iran, and I want to ask him which one,
which post-revolution Iran are we speaking of here. Thirty-year exile, you live in two places at once. My feet calcify into cleaved things on the carpet, toes growing together into just two on each of my feet.
Atlanta, I say. She lives here.
He asks me what she does and I grow a pair of legs to support me, for I have been standing too long. He flips through passport pages, the book of stamps from other countries. Singapore, huh? he says. The growth is swift, for all he knows my extra pair of legs have been there the whole time. I lose my black hair. I lose the smile from my mouth. I lose my fingers and arms and the angle in my nose. I lose the my purse, my travel pillow. I say she’s a math teacher. She teaches high school. She’s a citizen.
He asks me why I went to Turkey. He is looking beyond me now, at the humps emerging on my back like two breasts with no milk to give, no nipple to suck, gratuitous and grotesque in their nudity. The more he stares, the bigger they grow. I am not the dromedary camel of his dreams. He does not hear me when I say it was a long layover to get to Tehran. My mother has never seen Istanbul, sightseeing.
He asks me if I went to Syria, his eyes still on my back fat. I try to say no but I spit instead and it sticks to the blue of his uniform. He stares at my Iranian visa, the craft of the paste holding it together, Just due diligence, ma’am. He cuts me free with a punch on the page, a final look at my western passport photo.
He says Welcome back, but I do not ask if he means it. Should I feel lucky?
They are changing some of us into animals in waterless deserts of back rooms,
and some of us are sent back to deserts they imagine we come from. He puts my carryon on my back, between humps. My transformation into the being he always saw, the domesticated camel, is not, will not be, complete until I say Thank You.

Aria Curtis is an Iranian-American writer born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She received an MFA from Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New South, The Offing, The Southeast Review, The Shallow Ends, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on her first novel.